OSU’s head mascot coach talks about what it takes to be a walking nut
You may not have thought about it before, but Brutus Buckeye has a particular walk, and that walk has been the same for many years now.
And while the official line from Ohio State University is that there is only one Brutus, many people have worn that oversized tree nut on their heads, and all those athletes had to learn how to walk like Brutus.
“If he's walking across the Oval, he's the big man on campus — kind of macho, with shoulders swinging. He has that pep in his step,” said Ohio State's head mascot coach, Ray Sharp, who wore the Brutus costume from 2010 to 2013.
“The important thing is to make sure the character is maintained throughout the years,” Sharp said. “Once you put on the head, we tell our athletes to make sure to transform into the character of Brutus Buckeye. It's a real feeling. You turn it on and turn it off.”
Brutus tryouts happen in March or April, and Sharp said he likes to have six to eight athletes helping out with the program (though he stressed again that there's only one Brutus). In the last five or six years, Brutus athletes have had a lot of gymnastic ability, but anyone can try out. Sharp, for one, didn't know how to tumble when he got the role.
Being Brutus is a physically grueling experience. An athlete keeps the costume on for 45 minutes or an hour at a time. “It's very hot [inside the costume head],” Sharp said. “It's 15 to 20 degrees hotter than the outside environment, so you're sweating a lot. There's not a lot of ventilation in there. You try to make sure you take a shower beforehand so you're not smelling any body odor.”
To get in physical shape, Sharp and others lead a couple of weekly practices, and athletes also spend time in the weight room. After all, Brutus has to do a push-up for every point the Buckeyes score in football games. In 2010, Sharp was Brutus when the Buckeyes beat Eastern Michigan 73-20, and last year Urban Meyer's squad beat Bowling Green 77-10.
But becoming Brutus is about more than headstands and physical endurance. Sharp said he looks for a sense of humor in potential Bruti. “There's a lot of situations that we encounter [in which] we want to give off a vibe of being goofy,” Sharp said. “So being quick-witted and being able to improvise on the fly is a really important part of it.”
But the person inside the costume also has to be careful with humor. “I let my athletes know that when you become Brutus, you're held to another standard: ‘Any situation that you're in, remember, if you wouldn't say it or do it in front of your parents or grandparents, you don't want to do it now,'” he said. “At the end of the day, you just want to leave a good taste in everyone's mouth.”
To complicate things further, Brutus Buckeye is an image trademarked by Ohio State. That means if someone at a tailgate wants a picture with Brutus, but the fan is holding a questionable sign or wearing clothing that advertises a certain brand, Brutus may have to figure out how to get a picture with the fan without also drawing the ire of the university or its sponsors (Sharp sometimes took selfies with fans to avoid questionable signage).
As athletes juggle all those responsibilities inside of a giant nut costume, Brutus must always look, feel and act like the Brutus fans have come to know and love.
“Technically Brutus will never graduate,” Sharp said. “Long after I'm gone, we want to make sure that there's continuity across the board, so that when you run into him 20 years down the line, there's one piece of Ohio State that remains [the same], and that's Brutus himself.”